[b-hebrew] Initial Consonant Clusters in Biblical Hebrew

JimStinehart at aol.com JimStinehart at aol.com
Fri Jun 11 17:35:00 EDT 2010

Yitzhak Sapir:
You wrote:  “Ka-$ra is not an initial consonant cluster, and Akkadian, 
Hebrew, and even Arabic have no problem with a form ‘[ka-$ra’.”
Hello, hello!  No way.
In Biblical Hebrew and in the Akkadian of the Amarna Letters, not a single 
syllable consisting of $R + vowel is attested, to the best of my knowledge.
1.  For starters, I have personally checked every Biblical Hebrew word 
whose first two letters are shin/$ resh/R.  Not a single one of those words is 
thought to start with a single syllable containing both the shin/$ and the 
resh/R.  Typical here is a word like $R$ [e.g. Deuteronomy 29: 18], which is 
divided into syllables as $ - R$, and is not divided into syllables as $R - $ 
[nor is it a one-syllable word $R$].  Consider also $RH [Job 37: 3], which 
predictably is divided into syllables as $ - RH [not as $R – H or $RH]. 
2.  In looking at interior syllables, I found 7 Biblical Hebrew words of 
interest.  The most exciting actually looks quite a bit like ka-$ra!  It’s 
KW$RH at Psalms 68: 6.  But here is how it’s divided into syllables:  KW - $ - 
Perhaps the next most exciting word of this general type is X$RH at II 
Samuel 22: 12.  There is no vowel implied between the $ and R.  But the syllable 
division is:  X$ - RH.
The other 5 words of this general type that I found are as follows:  (i) 
K$RWN = K$ - RWN.  [3 times in Ecclesiastes]  (ii) $RWN = $ - RWN.  [E.g. 
Isaiah 33: 9.  Interestingly, this is the only one of these 7 words that is not 
a word that is only rarely used in the Bible.]  (iii) M$RH = M$ - RH.  
[Numbers 6: 3]  (iv) M$R(Y = M$ - R( - Y.  [I Chronicles 2: 53]  (v) Q$RYM = Q$ - 
RYM.  [Isaiah 3: 20 and Jeremiah 2: 32]
Thus although those 7 words had the possibility of a discrete single 
syllable being $R + vowel [or possibly $R + vowel + additional consonant, as a 
single syllable], in not a single case is that the situation.
3.  Turning now to Akkadian, I have scrolled through dozens and dozens of 
Amarna Letters in Akkadian, looking at syllables with shin/$.  I see $ar all 
the time, and sometimes $e-ru.  But I have never found a discrete syllable 
that is -$ra- [or any other vowel after $r in a single syllable].
Akkadian has a lot of words that look something like ka-$ru:  ka$aru, 
(http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/dictionary/dosearch.php?searchkey=kiertu&language=rawakkadian) , _ku$īru_ 
guage=rawakkadian) , _ku$urra_ 
(http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/dictionary/dosearch.php?searchkey=kuurra+'+u&language=rawakkadian) , 
(http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/dictionary/dosearch.php?searchkey=kiirtu&language=rawakkadian) , _ku$āru_ 
u&language=rawakkadian) , _ku$artu_ 
(http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/dictionary/dosearch.php?searchkey=kuartu&language=rawakkadian) , 
(http://www.premiumwanadoo.com/cuneiform.languages/dictionary/dosearch.php?searchkey=kadu&language=rawakkadian) , ka$adu, _ki$ru_ 
language=rawakkadian) , _ku$īru_ 
.  But note that ka$aru has an express vowel between the $ and R.  As to 
ki$ru [meaning “to bind”], if it’s a 2-syllable word, it’s ki$-ru, or if it’s 
a 3-syllable word, it’s ki-$a-ru.  [Compare Q$R at Isaiah 49: 18, meaning “
to bind”:  ka-$ar.]  Never does one see a discrete syllable composed of $ra 
or $ru, etc.  No, either there’s a vowel between the $ and R, or else the $ 
ends the preceding syllable, and the R starts a new syllable.
4.  I am not insisting that a Hebrew or Akkadian-speaker could not 
pronounce a syllable as $ra.  But I am saying that such a syllable is not attested 
in the Hebrew Bible, and I myself have never found such a syllable in the 
Amarna Letters either.
Accordingly, faced with Ka-$ra in Kassite, it is predictable that such 
portion of the Kassite name of Kassite Babylonia came out as Ka-ra in the Amarna 
Letters sent from Babylon.  It also makes perfect sense that the Hebrew 
author of the Patriarchal narratives decided to have the Hebrew version of the 
Kassite name of Kassite Babylonia start with Ka-$a.  That let his readers 
know that this was the homeland of the Ka$-$u people, the Kassites.  Neither 
decision was “wrong”.  We moderns might have expected Ka-$a-ra, but that 
would have turned a 2-syllable component of this country’s name into 3 
syllables, and that was not acceptable.  So the name starts out Ka-ra in Akkadian, 
and Ka-$a in Hebrew, with the Kassites’ original version having been Ka-$ra. 
5.  If you know a single syllable, in the form of $R + vowel [and there 
could be an additional consonant at the end], whether an interior syllable or 
otherwise, where such syllable is pronounced as one syllable, and there is no 
implied vowel either before or after the shin/$, in either Hebrew or 
Akkadian, please set it forth.  I myself am unaware of any such linguistic 
phenomenon.  But I come here to learn, like everyone else.  If you were right that “
Akkadian, Hebrew…have no problem with a form ‘ka-$ra’”, then my theory of 
the Bible would have a major gap.  But I do not see where you have set 
forth any instance of $ra as a single syllable in either Biblical Hebrew or 
Akkadian, nor do I see any reason to think that such a syllable would be likely 
in either language.
Jim Stinehart
Evanston, Illinois

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